HRW says Ethiopian migrant deaths may be crime against humanity

By Laureen Fagan - 21 August 2023 at 11:06 pm
HRW says Ethiopian migrant deaths may be crime against humanity

A Human Rights Watch investigation released Monday found hundreds of Ethiopian migrants and asylum seekers were killed by Saudi border guards when they tried to cross into the country along the border with Yemen.

“Human Rights Watch research indicates that, at time of writing, the killings are continuing,” said the report authors, whose data covers migrant attacks from March 2022 to June 2023.

“Saudi border guards have used explosive weapons and shot people at close range, including women and children, in a pattern that is widespread and systematic. If committed as part of a Saudi government policy to murder migrants, these killings would be a crime against humanity.”

About 750,000 Ethiopian migrants live in Saudi Arabia, arriving in search of economic opportunity or fleeing conflict and insecurity in Ethiopia. They travel from the Horn of Africa, across the Gulf of Aden, through Yemen and into Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Watch has documented killings of migrants at the border with Yemen and Saudi Arabia since 2014, but said the time period covered in the report reflected “a deliberate escalation in both the number and the manner of targeted killings.”

In some cases, explosive devices were used to keep Ethiopian migrants from entering Saudi Arabia. Members of the Independent Forensic Expert Group (IFEG) of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims have reviewed evidence they say is consistent with explosives use.

Although migrants have faced poor treatment, including deaths, in Houthi-controlled areas while on their journeys, they seemed confident that these recent attacks were committed by Saudi border guards and described their uniforms and movements accurately.

“While this report is focused on the widespread and systematic abuses committed by Saudi border guards, Human Rights Watch notes that the Houthis play a significant role in perpetrating abuses against migrants along this migration route,” the organization said.

Image: Human Rights Watch

Laureen Fagan

Laureen Fagan

Laureen is the editor of Africa Times

Laureen is a freelance journalist creating high-quality, informed content on international affairs, politics and technology. She has worked both in and out of newsrooms since 2000. She is a former paramedic with significant experience in community resilience and nonprofit community development initiatives, and maintains "a passion for action" on sustainability and climate change. She also is trained in conflict resolution and diversity, and has special interests in science and medical reporting, and culture and religion issues. Laureen received her MSJ from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism in the United States, and completed additional graduate study in theology at University of Notre Dame. Follow Laureen on Mastodon at

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